Remote Education and Free School Meals Opposition Day Debate

The second Opposition Day Debate on Monday 18 January 2021 was on access to remote learning and free school meals.

Free School Meals

There are over 1.4 million children in England who benefit from a free school meal while they are at school, if their parents are in receipt of certain benefits and meet a certain income threshold. Research by the Food Foundation found that more than 200,000 children had to skip meals when families couldn’t access sufficient food during the first lockdown. Stopping FSMs support over half-term will be devastating for many families who are fighting to put food on the table

HM Opposition called on the Government to put its trust in families and enable cash transfers so parents can spend the £15 Free School Meal (FSM) entitlement on the food and supplies that are right for their children, ending the scandal of the inadequate food parcels and delays in access to food vouchers seen in the first lockdown. The Government’s guidance recommends a food parcel for children including less than £7 worth of food, despite funding for free school meals being £15 per child each week.

The Labour Government in Wales has been praised by the independent Education Policy Institute for ensuring the 85,000 children in receipt of free school meals were able to access “timely and appropriate support” in lockdown, and being first of the four UK nations to commit to extending this support over school holidays, on 22nd April. This support is worth £19.50 per child per week compared to £15 in England. 

Remote Education

Two weeks after lockdown, the Government has failed its pledge to provide 1.3 million laptops for remote learning. Only 700,000 of these have been delivered. 600,000 of the promised laptops are still awaiting delivery, equivalent to over 600 secondary schools of children without the equipment they need to learn online.

Ofcom estimate that between 227,000 and 559,000 children live in households with no access to the internet at home, while a further 473,000 to 913,000 live in households whose only access to the internet was via mobile. The government has only provided 54,000 mobile dongles to households struggling to access the internet meaning thousands of students are still unable to get online. Children’s education is being further put at risk by this failure to provide the laptops and digital access needed for remote learning. 

The House debated our motion which said:

That this House believes families need more support during school and college closures, that those eligible should be guaranteed to receive the full value of free school meals for the duration of the school year, including during all holidays and calls on the Secretary of State for Education to set a deadline to ensure that every learner has the resources required to learn remotely and provide a weekly update to Parliament on implementing this.”

The Government also abstained on this motion and it passed by Ayes: 273 – Noes: 0.